We are dear friends with a delightful a family in Ohio: wonderful parents, blessed with several rambunctious young children. Like many of us, these parents are very mindful of protecting their impressionable young kids’ minds from Internet content that would be potentially harmful. And with this aim, one of the things they’ve done is to install filtering software that scans text for potential adult language, and screens it out. Generally effective – but occasionally hilarious…

A couple of years ago they were searching the Internet for some good movies for the kids to watch, and they got back a review of a movie starring Dick Van Dyke. No problem… except, the ever-vigilant filtering software reported this famous entertainer’s name as… “Blank Van Blank”… I understand that explaining this to the kids created many more problems than the software had solved.

But here’s the funny thing. From that day forward, in that household, Dick van Dyke was referred to as Blank Van Blank – and it’s a term the WHOLE family understands. Not that his name comes up THAT often, but when it does, that’s just what they call him – and everyone in the family knows what they mean. BUT – I happened to be with them one day when I heard ‘Blank Van Blank’ and had no clue what they were talking about.

How to Kill Your Communication

This is a fabulous reminder for all of us about one of the great communication killers, because we ALL live in a group that has its own unique language: Finance? HR? IT? Sales? And because all those around us understand it, we’ve stopped noticing it’s the language of OUR tribe. Over time we completely forget that to the outsider, this language is both bewildering and irritating.

Jargon, acronyms, and technical/insider terms constantly creep into our communications. And when those communications are with a different ‘tribe’ that speaks a different language, we’re in trouble.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of an IT or Finance briefing… and nodded politely while having absolutely no clue what they’re talking about? It’s happening ALL THE TIME, and communication dies when it does. It’s especially common in sales communication, because this is the language of the whole company, so NO ONE internally tends to spot it. I’ve seen sales materials that are being delivered by several hundred salespeople which contain terms that are completely impenetrable to the average customer… and yet no one spots it until there’s an outside eye on it.

The Solution

Here’s the good news – simple as it is, there’s the answer. The eye of the outsider…UNTAINTED EYES.

Anytime you are designing a piece of communication, you must run it by someone who is not contaminated by the same language of those who created it. If you’re in IT, run it by someone in HR or Marketing. And if it’s sales piece, PLEASE run it by someone external, ideally by a friendly customer. You will be amazed by the complexity they spot that you would never have imagined, and your communication will be much the better for it.

At one of our recent workshops, an attendee told us a true story of an attorney and a middle school teacher who are close personal friends. The middle school teacher has somehow gained permission for a fascinating practice in his classes. Whenever the attorney is building a closing trial argument… he comes into the school and runs it by the 8th graders – and his view is that when the kids “get it” – and ONLY when they get it – he has it right. Apparently, he wins a lot of cases.

That is brilliant. An attorney highly sensitive to ‘hidden complexity’… and the ultimate in untainted eyes.

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